Monday, February 28, 2011

Oman: Another Carrot After the Stick, Another Danger Sign for Saudi

Protests have erupted in city of Suhar in the Gulf state of Oman, tucked on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. The ruler there, Sultan Qaboos, (now in his 41st year of power) cracked down hard with riot police, killing at least three young protestors.

On Sunday, though, Sultan Qaboos pulled out the carrot and offered a $390 monthly stipend for job seekers and opened up 50,000 new government positions. He recognizes that unemployed, frustrated, and idealistic young people want change. They also want a representative government, something that Sultan Qaboos has resisted.

But few experts would have predicted that peaceful Oman would have erupted into violence. It's one of the last places that I, like most observers of the Gulf region, would have expected to see unrest. Everything seemed so placid there, and there is no history of political mobilization (unlike Bahrain's highly politicized society).

Which is why we should all be watching Saudi Arabia in the next two weeks. I am hearing from Saudi sources that we could surprised by what happens next. The young people there also want a representative government and an economic future. And they are already planning a "day of rage" for Friday, March 11 (after midday prayers). The BBC reported that, yes, a Facebook group dedicated to the event mushroomed from having 400 followers to 12,000 in the past few days.

This may be bigger than the wave of revolutions across Europe in 1848. And, because of globalization, we are all connected to it. Just ask anyone who drives a vehicle that runs on petroleum products. We are paying for the uncertainty at the gas pump.

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